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Where’s my visa?

Continued immigrant visa quota backlogs predicted for FY 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Longer waiting times for many immigrant visa categories are predicted in fiscal year 2019, according to US State Department Visa Control and Reporting Division Chief Charles Oppenheim, who provided predictions of immigrant visa quota waiting times for fiscal year 2019, which starts on October 1, 2018. Here are highlights from the announcement:

EB1. This is the immigrant visa category for individuals of extraordinary ability, outstanding professors and researchers, and multinational managers and executives. From its creation in 1990 till last summer, this category never experienced waiting periods (with the recent exception of some individuals born in India and mainland China). However, in August and September 2018, the State Department reported a waiting time for all countries of birth. It now predicts the continuation of a waiting period, and not to expect much forward movement before December 2018 or the first quarter of 2019.

EB2. This is the immigrant visa category for professionals with an advanced degree and individuals with exceptional ability. Since its creation in 1990, this category had not experienced waiting periods, with the recent exception of some individuals born in India or mainland China. However, in September 2017, a waiting period was reported for all places of birth. Now, the State Department expects this visa to again become immediately available starting in October 2018 (with the exception of people born in India or mainland China, who will continue to experience lengthy wait times).

EB3. This is the immigrant visa category for professionals and skilled workers. It typically has a wait period of only a few months, except for individuals born in India or mainland China, who have experienced lengthier wait times. While the State Department predicts a wait period for all countries of birth for September 2018, it expects visas in this category to become immediately available again in October 2018 (with the exception of people born in India, mainland China and the Philippines, who will continue to experience lengthy wait times.

EB5. This is the immigrant visa category for immigrant investors. It will remain available to all individuals, regardless of country of birth, but with wait times for people from China and Vietnam. For the latter, visas will be more readily available after October 2018 until March or April 2019, when the wait time will be the same as that of Chinese investors.

The State Department reports immigrant visa waiting times in its monthly Visa Bulletin, which can be found here. The current month and links to past months are available.

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Where’s my visa?

Where’s my green card?

Longer waiting times expected for EB-5 immigrant investors

The US Department of State estimates longer waiting periods for EB-5 immigrant investors from the top six participating countries: China, Vietnam, India, Brazil, Taiwan and South Korea.

Waiting periods have long existed for immigrant investors born in mainland China and recently, EB-5 visa applicants from Viet Nam have been facing them. The State Department’s Visa Bulletin for June 2018 shows that EB-5 immigrant visas are only available to people born in China and Vietnam who applied before August 1, 2014. Now, the State Department predicts the likelihood, in the near future, of waiting periods for people born in the other four above-named countries.

The State Department predicts that, for people born in India, EB-5 will remain currently available until 2019 and that EB-5 is likely to remain available without longer waiting times for people born in Brazil, Taiwan and South Korea until 2020.

The US limits the number of immigrant visas and green cards issued each fiscal year. The limits are based on both visa category and country of birth. Each country has potentially the same supply. Only 10,000 EB-5 immigrant visas are available each fiscal year (October 1, 2017, was day one for FY2018). This small allocation is shared by immigrant investors and the family members who immigrate with them.

In addition to the countries mentioned above, the State Department reports increases in demand from Russia, Japan, Colombia and Venezuela.

While each country is entitled to 7 percent of the annual supply (i.e., 700 visas), any unused visas are allocated in order of immigrant petition receipt date, regardless of place of birth. In the past, that resulted in more China-born immigrants. As the demand from other countries increases, expect fewer unused visas and longer waiting periods.

For example, in FY2017 China received 75 percent (or 7,567) of all EB-5 immigrant visas because of unused visas allocated to other countries. Due to increasing demand from other countries, China will likely get fewer visas this year and in the future. The State Department puts the number at 4,500 in FY2018 and 3,500 in FY2019 (or less than half that of FY2017).

The bottom line: It is more important than ever for immigrant investors to file their petitions as early as possible. The date that the government receives the petition is the priority date.

The Visa Bulletin allocates immigrant visas by priority date. The sooner immigrants make their investment and file the petition, the faster they will get resident status. Petitions are processed slowly by the government. Since the priority date is the date that petitions are first received, immigrant investors are already in line during processing.

There are federal legislative and regulatory proposals pending that would at least partially address this problem. But these are only proposals and it is not clear when they will become law, if ever. One thing is certain: Unless and until Congress increases the annual supply of EB-5 visas, increasingly long waiting periods will create hardships on immigrant investors that will likely result in less job creation for American workers.

EB-5 refers to the employment-based, fifth preference immigrant visa classification. EB-5 is the US immigrant investor program that grants immigrant visas and resident status (or green cards) to individuals who make an at-risk investment that creates, directly or indirectly, full-time equivalent jobs for at least 10 American workers. The required dollar amount of investment is currently US$1 million, although US$500,000 is acceptable in targeted employment areas where the government wants to encourage job creation, generally high-unemployment or rural areas.

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Where’s my green card?

‘Hire American’ executive order

End of days—or much ado about nothing?

The visa rules that allow US employers to temporarily hire certain foreign professionals is either going to change dramatically…or not, and there will have been much ado about nothing.

President Trump signed the “Buy American and Hire American” Executive Order (EO) on April 18, 2017. This EO does not change any existing law or regulation. It merely calls on the relevant federal agencies to make changes. This means employers can anticipate more, not less, government regulation and new agency policies, limited by US immigration law made by Congress.

Here is the text of the immigration-related components of the EO:

Sec. 5. Ensuring the Integrity of the Immigration System in Order to “Hire American.” (a) In order to advance the policy outlined in section 2(b) of this order, the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Labor, and the Secretary of Homeland Security shall, as soon as practicable, and consistent with applicable law, propose new rules and issue new guidance, to supersede or revise previous rules and guidance if appropriate, to protect the interests of United States workers in the administration of our immigration system, including through the prevention of fraud or abuse.

(b) In order to promote the proper functioning of the H-1B visa program, the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Labor, and the Secretary of Homeland Security shall, as soon as practicable, suggest reforms to help ensure that H-1B visas are awarded to the most-skilled or highest-paid petition beneficiaries.

It is clear that the EO makes no new rule or change in law, unlike previous EOs like the travel bans. This EO merely instructs the relevant agencies to propose new rules and issue guidance, if appropriate, with the stated goal of protecting US workers and preventing fraud/abuse and suggesting H-1B reforms.

With so little information in the EO, what can employers expect. Limited insights can be gleamed from the backgrounder issued the night before this EO was issued, when the White House held a press briefing.

Enforcement

The EO merely instructs the agencies to issue proposals and guidance to prevent fraud or abuse. The backgrounder does not do much more than explain that the Administration seeks the strict enforcement of all laws governing entry into the US of foreign workers. The EO calls on the Departments of Labor, Justice, Homeland Security and State to take prompt action to crack down on fraud and abuse. The backgrounder states:

And then again, you add that on top of the across-the-board reform process for guest worker and visa programs in general to make sure that they’re strictly complying with all the rules, laws, and protections for American workers, again, which there are many, but there hasn’t been this kind of systematic review. And this is something that the President, if you look, actually promised that he would have the Department of Labor go and do this kind of systematic review and take these kinds of actions.

We will monitor agency actions carefully to see how this develops, but employers are well advised to review the immigration-related records keeping and compliance systems. Annual affirmative audits and trainings are best practices that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency looks to when considering whether to reduce fines and penalties for violators. Employers are well-advised to consult with counsel on what steps can be taken now, as well as expected changes that can be planned for.

H-1B visa random selection and wages

The EO instructs these agencies to suggest reforms to ensure that H-1B visas are awarded to the most-skilled or highest-paid petition beneficiaries. The backgrounder says that these agencies are expected to report back on proposed ways to change how new H-1B visa petitions are allocated.

Existing rules allocate the limited annual supply of new H-1B visa petitions for most US employers on a random-selection basis. The EO suggests that the foreign worker’s skills and compensation be taken into consideration. Ironically, this would give preference to requests from employers who pay foreign workers more than the average paid to Americans.

The backgrounder acknowledges that some immigration changes can only be made by Congress. Just like the Obama Administration, however, the Trump Administration seems willing to bypass Congress and act unilaterally and not wait for Congress to act.

From the backgrounder:

But you could be looking at things on the administrative side, like increasing fees for H1B visas.  You could be looking at things like if we could adjust the wage scale—a more honest reflection of what the prevailing wages actually are in these fields. Obviously, taking a more vigorous stance, which various—in the Department of Justice do with respect to enforcing gross and egregious violations of the H1B program. You could see potential—and again, we’ll have to get a full legal analysis and review from all the departments, but right now the lottery system disadvantages master’s degree holders. There’s ways that you could adjust the lottery system to give master’s degree holders a better chance of getting H1Bs relative to bachelor’s degree holders. There’s a lot of possible reforms that you could do administratively in addition to a suite of legislative actions.  

There is no change in the H-1B random selection process, which is already concluded for fiscal year 2018. Changes can reasonably be anticipated for fiscal year 2019 filings in April 2018. What skills, wage offers, or other factors will impact the likelihood of selection remains to be determinedassuming that the status quo changes at all.

We will continue to share more information and analysis as the law evolves.

The full text of the EO is published on the White House web site; click here to read the backgrounder press release. To read the President’s remarks on signing the EO click here.

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‘Hire American’ executive order

Travel ban executive order – the saga continues

The US Departments of State and Homeland Security both issued statements on February 6, 2017, confirming that the government has suspended the implementation of key provisions of President Trump’s travel ban on nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries, and that visas that had been provisionally revoked are now valid for travel and may be used, once again, to come to the US, subject to the normal laws and procedures that existed prior to the President Trump’s executive order dated January 27, 2017.

This action comes as a result of a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in State of Washington and State of Minnesota v. Trump, denying a US Department of Justice request for an immediate stay of a nationwide injunction granted by a US federal district court judge in Seattle in response to Washington State’s request for a temporary restraining order immediately halting implementation and enforcement of the immigration ban.

The EO initially barred the entry to the United States of lawful permanent residents with green cards, and imposes a 90-day suspension of admission for immigrant and nonimmigrant visa holders, and refugees and passport holders from the seven countries. Soon thereafter, the Department of State issued an urgent notice suspending visa issuance to citizens of those countries. The EO also suspended the resettlement of refugees from all countries to the US for 120 days, and bans Syrian refugees indefinitely.

Previous injunctions had been issued in federal courts in Massachusetts and New York. Those orders temporarily enjoined federal agencies from removing people with approved refugee applications, valid visas and the nationals from the seven Muslim countries. The Seattle court’s decision is the broadest and has the largest impact.

Citizens from these countries are impacted

Nationals from the following countries are detrimentally impacted:

  • Iran
  • Iraq
  • Libya
  • Somalia
  • Sudan
  • Syria
  • Yemen

The EO does not apply to citizens of other countries who merely visited the listed countries. Further, the US Customs and Border Protection Agency has stated that the EO does not apply to citizens of these seven countries, if they are dual citizens and use the passport of a non-affected country to enter the US.

Travel guidance

Nationals from the seven listed countries, including dual citizens traveling with the passport of another country and US permanent residents, may wish to delay travel to the US until the details of the implementation of the EO are more clear, even if they already hold a visa to enter the United States. If in the United States already, they may wish to defer departure as they may not be allowed to return or they may find themselves going through a more lengthy than usual secondary inspection on arrival in the US. There are also reports of airline personnel being understandably confused regarding the status of the EO, with resulting inconvenience to travelers.

Background

On February 4, President Trump tweeted the following about the Hon. James L. Robart, the district court judge who issued the nationwide order. “The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!”

Criticism of the tweet and the EO was immediate and widespread. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said, “The President’s hostility toward the rule of law is not just embarrassing, it is dangerous. He seems intent on precipitating a constitutional crisis.” Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said: “We fear this executive order will become a self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism.”

Broad media coverage of the confusion caused by the uncertainty surrounding the EO’s fate continues. Dentons continues to receive emails and calls from employers who are considering cancelling all travel for employees carrying passports from the impacted countries, including dual citizens and US lawful permanent residents. Similar concerns have been voiced by citizens of many countries that are not listed in the EO but are worried that their country might be next. Due to the reciprocal nature of diplomatic relations, it is likely that US passport holders traveling to the seven countries will experience similar difficulties upon their arrival. Iran, for its part, has said, it would stop US citizens entering the country in retaliation to Washington’s visa ban.

Dentons will issue further information as it becomes available.

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Travel ban executive order – the saga continues

Entry to the United States barred for certain passport holders?!

US President Donald Trump issued an executive order delaying the entry to the United States of lawful permanent residents with green cards, immigrant and nonimmigrant visa holders, refugees and passport holders from seven countries. The order, dated January 27, 2017, became effective immediately. Soon thereafter, the US Department of State issued an urgent notice suspending visa issuance to citizens of those countries.

On January 28, 2017, injunctions were issued in federal courts in Massachusetts and New York. The orders enjoin federal agencies from removing people with approved refugee applications, valid visas and others from the seven countries.

How the government is reacting

In a January 29, 2017, press release, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) stated that it will continue to enforce all of President Trump’s executive orders. Later that same day, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) agency, which is part of DHS, issued a statement deeming the entry of lawful permanent residents to be in the national interest. The result is to allow lawful permanent residents to return to their homes in the US, absent significant derogatory information indicating a serious threat to public safety and welfare.

Citizens from these countries are impacted

Nationals from the following seven countries are detrimentally impacted:

  • Iran
  • Iraq
  • Libya
  • Somalia
  • Sudan
  • Syria
  • Yemen

The order does not apply to citizens of other countries who merely visited the listed countries.

Travel Guidance

Nationals from the seven listed countries, including dual citizens traveling with the passport of another country, may wish to delay travel to the United States until the details of the implementation of the executive order is more clear even if they already hold a visa to enter the United States. If in the United States already, they may wish to defer departure.

Background

The executive order is reported to have been issued without advance consultation with the agencies charged with its implementation, including DHS and the Department of State.

President Trump stated on January 28 that the travel ban is “working out very nicely.”

That said, there is broad media coverage of the widespread confusion that resulted, not only in the general public, but also at airports, airlines, border crossings, etc. There are reports of detentions of new arrivals at airports and public protest in many American cities. I have had a number of emails and calls from client employers canceling travel for employees carrying passports from the impacted countries, including dual citizens and United States lawful permanent residents. Due to the reciprocal nature of diplomatic relations, it is likely that US passport holders traveling to these seven countries will experience similar difficulties.

The situation remains very fluid. Press Secretary Reince Priebus stated on January 29, 2017, that the executive order will no longer apply to lawful permanent residents, and the USCIS issued its confirming statement mentioned above.

Dentons will issue further information as it becomes available.

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Entry to the United States barred for certain passport holders?!

US State Department visa and passport processing almost back to normal

keep calm visas

The US State Department announced on August 4 that most of the worldwide backlog of nonimmigrant visa cases have been resolved.  The Department continues to prioritize immigration cases and are printing visas with very few delays, although system performance issues remain an issue and the Consular Consolidated Database is not yet back to full operational capacity.  Visa applicants are advised they might still experience delays of up to one week in addition to normal processing times.

In late July, the Department announced technical problems with the passport and visa system.  By July 27, immigrant visas were given high priority.  The story was widely reported in major media, including many stories of the hardship caused to foreign workers at American companies who were unable to obtain visas to come to the US for work and other problems.   On July 31, the government was still anticipating it would take weeks to resume full visa processing.

The current reports are welcome news, but come with the warning that visa delays are still happening, just that the delays are shorter.  Employers and foreign employees seeking visas should take this into account when planning travel.  It may be faster to delay scheduling an appointment at a consular post until the problem is fully resolved OR it may be important to schedule an appointment as early as possible to allow sufficient time for processing.

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US State Department visa and passport processing almost back to normal

American Consulates in Canada for Canadians Only?!

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American consular posts in Canada temporarily suspended visa processing for non-Canadians from June through the end of August.  The American Immigration Lawyers Association shared this information from the US Department of State on June 3, 2014.

American consular posts have jurisdiction to process visa applications for individuals who have resided within their jurisdiction for at least 6 months.  Posts also have discretion to accept jurisdiction for non-local individuals.

The American consular posts in Canada (and many in Mexico) have long had a policy to accept visa processing appointments for non-locals.  This was very helpful to many groups, including foreign nationals granted visa petitions during temporary trips to the US.  The policy gave them the option to avoid a long and expensive trip to their home country by processing in Canada.

The US State Department explained that the seven American consular posts in Canada are increasingly busy with applications from Canadians.  The suspension of service to others is temporary and only for the summer months.  The consular posts in Canada offer increased appointment availability during non-peak business periods, such as October, November, and January through May.

Of course, appointments can still be requested in the applicant’s home country or in other countries, including Canada.

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American Consulates in Canada for Canadians Only?!